Kevin P. Dincher
Are you overloaded and stressed from having too much to do with no way out from under the workload in sight? Are you working long hours and feeling completely indispensable—and feeling a little resentful that your staff seems to be able to keep pretty regular hours? Is your day regularly eaten up by minor details so that you never get to your really important work? If so, you may be a work hoarder: someone who won’t—or can’t—delegate.
Regardless of the size of the organization or the industry, team and business leaders, managers and executives often have trouble not doing the work themselves and figuring out how to get the work done by managing and leading people. Delegation is a critical skill both for personal success and for the success of the organization you lead.
What Delegation Is Not … and Is
Delegation is not simply assigning work to others and telling them what to do and how to do it.
When you delegate, you assign the authority and responsibility for a specific activity. You are not just assigning work; you are assigning the decision-making authority. If the person needs to do exactly what you would do or needs to run decisions by you before acting, then you are not really delegating.
Delegation is not abdication.
You may shift the authority and responsibility for the work, but you remain accountable for the outcome of the work. Therefore, you need to stay engaged. You must provide the people who are now responsible for getting the work done with the guidance, resources and skill development that they need in order to succeed. Delegation does not mean saying, “Here, go do this, and let me know when you’re done.”
Delegation is not just about getting work done.
Well, actually delegating can be just about getting the work done. But if it is, then you are missing out. An organization is not a collection of buildings, strategies, tactics, processes and projects. Ultimately an organization is people and relationships—and one of the core tasks of leaders is to develop men and women of competence, conviction and commitment. Delegating at its best is one of the most effective tools you have at your disposal to accomplish this core task. Developing your delegation skills and integrating delegation into the way you do things, therefore, is a process with a learning curve for everyone, not a single decision or act.
Benefits of Delegating
When delegating is done well several positives occur for leaders. Leaders and managers who delegate become more productive. They are under less pressure because their work day is not dominated and eaten up by minor details. They have more time to focus on their primary responsibilities and can focus on developing their people and their organization; they have the time and the energy to be creative and get better results. Leaders who delegate also have more time for their own self-development.
When delegating is done well, employees benefit as well. Having new work delegated to them creates opportunities to learn and grow—and they are often energized by the challenge of new and interesting work along with the acknowledgement of their potential. They feel valued and become more motivated and engaged.
In the end the overall organization benefits when leaders and managers delegate. The organization gets leaders who are less stressed, who can focus on the bigger picture and broader issues of the organization, who are themselves growing and developing and who are able to achieve goals with better results. The organization also gets a workforce that is increasingly engaged, committed and competent.
So, Why Don’t Managers and Leaders Delegate?
“Most people will tell you they are too busy to delegate — that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves,” says Carol Walker, the president of Prepared to Lead, a consulting firm that focuses on developing young leaders. You can do it faster yourself, and training and guiding people takes too long. Developing delegation skills and integrating delegation into the way you do things takes time, so this may be true in the short run.
Delegating at its best, however, is an investment in the long-term development of your staff—with long-term impact and advantages. So, a key question is: why am I considering delegating? To get some particular work done as quickly as possible (short-term solution to an immediate problem)? Or to develop a new way of getting the work done and grow your people (long-term development)? Your answer will clarify your approach to delegating. Either way, you don’t want to start out by pass on a major time-critical project.
Some managers are perfectionists who believe no one can do it as well as they can. But even those who are not exactly perfectionists often do not trust their staff’s ability to handle the work—and are convinced that they will make a mess of it.
This is a complicated issue. You need to be okay with the possibility—and the probability—that your staff will make mistakes. If, however, you want people to learn, then you can’t make decisions for them. You can help them develop their critical thinking skills so that they become better at handling situations on their own—but ultimately that means being willing to let them make mistakes and figure out (perhaps with some coaching) how to correct them.
On the other hand, it is your responsibility to put the right people in the right job. If you are going to pass on work, you don’t pass it on to just anyone—but to the people you believe have the potential, the motivation and the learning capacity to get the job done. If you haven’t selected well, then it may be impossible to let go and delegate.
Some managers and executives believe that passing on work detracts from their own importance. “Giving up being ‘the go-to expert’ takes tremendous confidence and perspective even in the healthiest environments,” says Walker. Some managers lack self-confidence, fearing they will be upstaged—or even replaced—by their subordinates.
Delegation at its best requires self-confidence. We need to be comfortable enough to accept our limitations—that we can’t do everything ourselves and don’t know everything. Also we cannot be threatened by sharing success with our teams. Actually, it seems that the most successful leaders are those who go beyond being comfortable with sharing success; the most successful leaders possess a genuine spirit of generosity. Such leaders are actually motivated and energized by a desire to nurture and develop their people and share the success and rewards with them.
Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education, counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.
LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher